Skip to content

Reimagining a 114-Year-Old Conference: Reflections on Day One of #AAMvirtual

Category: Alliance Blog
Laura Lott smiling in front of computers open the virtual conference program
The first day of AAM's virtual Annual Meeting & MuseumExpo was filled with tough conversations but also moments of hope and joy, as President and CEO Laura Lott reflects.

For the first time in our 114-year history, the American Alliance of Museums Annual Meeting and MuseumExpo is being held virtually! Kicking off on International Museum Day with thousands of museum professionals from around the world was a perfect launch to our virtual meeting, themed Radical Reimagining. Our museum field is interconnected like never before, and it will take cross-continental solidarity, leadership, and cooperation to tackle this worldwide crisis and emerge a stronger global museum field.

As I mentioned in my opening remarks, I know a virtual gathering isn’t what we hoped for. Just two months ago, we were putting the finishing touches on fantastic plans for our in-person meeting in San Francisco. But museum people are resilient! The Alliance community came together to hear from leaders within and outside our field, engage in tough conversations, and enjoy some joyful moments together.

The morning started with a warm and rousing welcome from one of my sheros, the always-inspiring Dr. Johnnetta Cole. Dr. Cole urged us to “build bridges across the range of differences that we have allowed to divide us” and, in encouraging us to “let go of certainty and grab hold of creativity” as we reimagine museums, she dropped perhaps my favorite line of the day: “Impossible is not a declaration…it’s a dare!”

The keynote by Microsoft’s Anthony Salcito was equally engaging on topics of people-centered digital transformation and new ways to engage new audiences in an era in which “things that connect us and make us feel human will be even more important.” I am inspired to think about how the current transformation in what Salcito called “the digital language of learning” and schools’ rapid shifts to at-home learning will forever change the learning landscape and offer opportunities for museums to play a greater role in students’ formal education.

AAM’s own founding director of the Center for the Future of Museums, Elizabeth Merritt, took participants on a virtual “walk-and-talk” to share insights from the recently released TrendsWatch: The Future of Financial Sustainability and four scenarios for the post-pandemic future of museums (Growth, Collapse, Constraint, and Transformation).

The “Complex Challenges, Unconventional Solutions” panel of museum leaders Micah Parzen, Christy Coleman, Norman Burns, and Sarah Pharaon delved into critical, uncomfortable issues holding museums back: inequity, colonialism, leadership, and the scarcity mentality that inhibits our ability to think creatively and long-term.

We were also fortunate to have an exclusive presentation from public health experts at Johns Hopkins University, who offered sobering but important information as museums think about reopening. I am so grateful for all the information and resources JHU is providing to the world in this global health crisis, and it was great to have their museum-focused insights.

The day was punctuated by ”moments of joy”—messages of love and gratitude to museum workers from Hamilton’s Tamar Greene, Ford Foundation President Darren Walker, and Smithsonian Secretary & ICOM-US co-chair Lonnie Bunch. And AAM’s own Grace Stewart hosted a fun happy hour to close out the day. I loved seeing all the photos of AAMers participating in the virtual conference, making us feel just that much closer to one another. Stay tuned for more of these joyful moments and special guest appearances to come!

Thank you to all of our attendees and presenters in our kick-off day—and all those who will participate and whom we will hear from in two weeks when #AAMvirtual continues, June 1-4.

To our MuseumExpo exhibitors and sponsors, and especially our kick-off day signature sponsor, Microsoft, thank you! The field will remember that you stood by museums, unflinchingly, during this challenging time for all of us, and we will all succeed together in the years to come.

I’m grateful to all our donors who made it possible for us to welcome everyone who submitted their information for deeply discounted $25 registrations ahead of this morning’s conference start! We will continue to fundraise to make the conference available to those who are unable to afford the full registration fee during these challenging times. Please sign up here to be notified as spots become available. And if you are able to contribute, please do so here.

A conference platform window showing Grace appearing next to selfies of other participants.
AAM’s own Grace Stewart hosted a fun happy hour to close out the day.

Thank you again to everyone who joined the first day of our virtual meeting. And if you missed the first day, please register; $235 for members gets you exclusive content and networking opportunities—including session recordings. And your registration fee supports AAM’s year-round work to provide free resources for the museum field and advocacy for the cause of museums and museum relief funding!

I look forward to seeing everyone online again June 1!

AAM Member-Only Content

AAM Members get exclusive access to premium digital content including:

  • Featured articles from Museum magazine
  • Access to more than 1,500 resource listings from the Resource Center
  • Tools, reports, and templates for equipping your work in museums
Log In

We're Sorry

Your current membership level does not allow you to access this content.

Upgrade Your Membership



  1. Very happy to see that day 1 of the virtual conference was a success. It is great to read about how many industry professionals came together to make this important event come together. As perfectly stated by Dr. Cole, “Let go of certainty and grab hold of creativity”.

    I look forward to the remaining days of the conference, and hope to see topics discussed on Museums and the Climate. Research has found that a lot of older Museums have an outdated fire suppression system installed. And if these systems were to discharge, the damage it would do the the ozone layer would cause problems for years. The chemical in discussion is Halon 1301, which has been banned from production worldwide since 1994 by the Montreal Protocol. I do my best to help educate about this present day issue, as well as inform those who have these systems that there are businesses in the US who will pay to remove this chemical. An average 1000 pound system could be worth around $25K.

    Anyway, I look forward to the next scheduled dates in June. Well done, AAM!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to Field Notes!

Packed with stories and insights for museum people, Field Notes is delivered to your inbox every Monday. Once you've completed the form below, confirm your subscription in the email sent to you.

If you are a current AAM member, please sign-up using the email address associated with your account.

Are you a museum professional?

Are you a current AAM member?

Success! Now check your email to confirm your subscription, and please add to your safe sender list.